Month: February 2022

That Word Game

I’ve caught the “Wordle” bug. It was a brilliant move on the part of the game’s creator to post only one word per day. Otherwise millions of players would spend their days playing instead of getting on with life. I was pretty pleased with myself after the first few games as I nearly always solved the puzzle in three tries and often got it in two.

Then the game was sold to the New York Times and the words got a lot harder — at least in my opinion. But now that I’ve been doing the NYT version for a bit, I’m getting better at it. Puzzles for the last two days were solved in three lines. English words do follow “rules” although sometimes it is hard for foreign speakers to understand them. Heck, it’s hard for native speakers to articulate the rules about “ough” for example but I find the Wordle game makes those letter combinations clear. The more you understand about the function of vowels and their combinations, the quicker you will solve the problem.

The game is being used by teachers too. Here in British Columbia an adapted version is being used to revitalize indigenous languages of the Gitskan people. Games are a great teaching tool. As an aside, the comic strip, “Take it from the Tinkersons,” has a  teacher tricking his student into solving math problems in order to open a box. Isn’t it odd that learning for the sake of knowledge is seen as dull and boring, but learning for the sake of winning a prize is madly popular?

I notice others are sharing their Wordle score on facebook and I’ve done a little bragging there myself. We all like to be winners. Maybe that’s good advice for authors. Readers like winning so create characters who overcome difficulties to “win” whether that’s a job, a university degree,  a triple Axel, or true love. Readers will be rooting for them to “win.”

Part of the genius of Wordle is that there is only one word per day. However, if you can’t get enough of puzzling with words there is another site, Quordle.com , that lets you test your skill with four connected words. I just tried it and lost thirty minutes of my day, and that was just with a practice set.  I’ll try it again for real tomorrow.

For some “fun with words” is a contradiction in terms but for me it really is fun. If you’re playing, please feel free to share your best score in the comments below. If you are just finding the game, congratulations and good luck.

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Passive Heroine

 

     Recently on Writer Unboxed there was a discussion about passive characters. Now, 99% of writing coaches tell us to avoid passive characters like COVID-19. Thus, I was flummoxed by the suggestion that passive characters could be the protagonists in a story.

I’m now reading a book with a passive heroine. Despite threats to her home, her livelihood, and her beloved village,  she refuses to act. Why? She’s shy.

I can’t imagine how that premise got by an acquiring editor, but it did. The book is published by Random House.

The plot, setting and secondary characters are all appealing enough that I’m still turning the page. But, for all that there have been some laugh-out-loud moments, I’m still annoyed by the heroine. Surely she’ll have to break out of her shell sometime, but I’m half-way through the book and it hasn’t happened yet.

Perhaps the author hoped to provoke empathy in the reader by showing the heroine incapacitated by her extreme shyness, but in this reader, she only provokes irritation. Not a great way to promote sales.

In his book, Writing the Break-Out Novel, Donald Maass has a whole chapter on characters. The first requirement he lists is “larger than life.”  When your main character hides in a corner, it is hard to think of her as larger than life. In The 38 Most Common Fiction Writing Mistakes, Jack Bickham says, “don’t write about wimps when you can build strong, active characters.” Dwight Swain says the character “must care about something, feel that some aspect of his world is important — important enough to fight for.”

If all these giants of the writing business urge authors to create active characters, how did I end up reading a book about a crybaby? I well remember one of my many rejection letters saying that the heroine, whom I loved for her strength in the face of catastrophe, was too reactive. This editor wanted the lead character to “drive the story,” to be the agent of change, not to merely respond to situations beyond her control. 

The reviews for this passive heroine novel are mostly favourable, with many middle-of-the-road ratings. I ordered the book from my local library on the recommendation of some other authors. Despite my annoyance with the protagonist, I do find the writing engaging and the secondary characters are a world of fun.

What have I learned from all this?

Even the best advice in the world, is imperfect. An author can use that wisdom to improve her craft, but the story she writes must resonate with the writer if it is to resonate with the reader. I’m grateful for all the coaches and teachers and authors who have shared their knowledge and advice. I’m also grateful to this annoying heroine for showing me that adherence to “they say” is not the only route to publication.

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